by Kevin Allman
I like the fact that our commenters on Blog of New Orleans tend to be smart, funny, and non-didactic (that is, they don't form their opinions on what either Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann yapped yesterday). This comment -- left in response to Alejandro de los Rios' blog entry about the murder of Kirsten Brydum -- was, I thought, worthy of its own blogpost and discussion:
As a woman who came of age in a tough racially charged and blighted town (Cleveland, Ohio circa 1980s), lived in a horribly tough neighborhood in NYC in the 1980s, and has spent a fair amount of time recently in New Orleans there are some givens. Know your surroundings, dont venture where you dont know, and certainly dont go riding your bike or walk in bad neighborhoods alone at night. Hell, these are applicable to most places, including my charming working class neighborhood in Paris in 2006 where there were a rash of robberies at knife point. I wonder if people would be all up in arms if she was attacked in the Bronx, in Watts, in the South Side of Chicago? Doubt it. Theyd say: what the hell was she thinking?
That said, New Orleans has a major crime and murder problem indeed, a major problem with basic city services (such as police and abandoned housing) and racial and other socioeconomic blight problems that make for an explosive combination - especially with the new influx of white outsiders (gentrifiers?) mixed with the displacement of long term residents. Class, race, age and culture all contribute to this tension for sure. And I mention the culture thing because, as many people know, the norms of U.S. culture found in other cities just dont always apply in New Orleans.
Of course some these issues are Katrina enhanced and beyond the scope of the city or small grass roots/neighborhood/community groups to fix alone. Thats why the Feds need to keep their damn promise. However, the City also needs to take some responsibility and get their Sh*t together if they want to survive. After spending over 2 months in the City (and as an urban planner) I truly believe this. Dysfunction at the city government level in Nola astounds me, and I fear it is a major risk for ultimately killing the city.
I can understand the author of this post feeling like the City is getting a bad rap from articles like the ones in the Times. However, and sadly, I think the bad reputation of New Orleans is somewhat deserved - the recent random murder of the bartender in the safe French Quarter seems to illustrate that.
I never felt horribly unsafe in Nola, but then again, I would also frequently walk down the same damn street where the bartender in the safe French Quarter was recently gunned down. Thats given me some pause for thought.
Honestly, I am so in love with New Orleans in a way that gets to my core, that in the U.S. its pretty much the only city I really want to live in. However, the high violent crime rate is my only hesitation about moving & investing my business there, and as previously stated Im hardly skittish or unschooled in the ways of intense urban living. And I know Im not alone.
OK, New Orleans: here's a woman who's intelligent, neither an idealist nor a cynic, and wants to move here ... and seems to have a pretty good handle on the city. Just from reading this, it's obvious she gets it in a way that a lot of outsiders don't. I think we'd all welcome her as a new neighbor to come down and be dysfunctional with the rest of us.
This is a woman who gets it. But what do you tell her?